By Jonathon Van Maren
Even before I spoke with Chief Kenny Blacksmith, I suspected Canadians were talking past each other on the subject of residential schools.
After speaking with him I was convinced of it, primarily because Chief Blacksmith speaks directly from inside the experience of those schools. He survived them. Maybe more importantly, his reaction against them sparked a deep and enduring Christian faith.
To hear him speak is to realize acutely how even though most Canadians had heard of residential schools before now, they had no idea just how awful many of these institutions were. An odd effect is that many people remain strangely uncomfortable with recognizing the extent of the trauma inflicted on Indigenous people, perhaps because some of these schools were run by Catholic and Protestant clergy.
It can be true that individual clergy or educators were not personally guilty of any abuse. Many were even well-intentioned despite being participants in a fundamentally unjust system that had the State kidnap children for the express purpose of destroying their connections to their family and culture. As I wrote earlier, the entire system’s functioning by State-perpetrated family breakup should confirm that its underlying ideology defies everything fair-minded liberals and true social conservatives claim to hold dear.
Instead, the discussion bogs down into largely irrelevant discussions about whether the graves of the incarcerated children were unmarked, or simply forgotten; whether they were “mass” graves or whether children were simply buried en masse due to disease-ridden conditions. These are mere details in the context of the underlying crime itself. Yet arguing about these details allows us to miss what should be the very obvious point of this all.
And then there’s the arsonists who, more than likely, are not justifiably angry survivors but activists taking advantage of this moment of reckoning to stoke the flames of animosity against churches. Burning churches, incidentally, also provide the perfect opportunity for people to avoid the difficult discussion at hand and instead direct their anger at the anti-Christian Canadian elites who, one suspects, feel warm and fuzzy at the sight of religious sites crackling merrily. Revolutionaries don’t lose their Neronian tastes just because they happen to be in power.